Commentary: What you haven’t heard in the past 40 years
As of September 1, 2021, I have been an agricultural broadcaster for 40 years. I don’t know when this happened because I feel like last month I was playing rock and roll on a small town radio station that had less power than a mic -waves. Yet there is no denying that I have been doing this for much longer than I ever dreamed of. Thinking back all these years, a number of things came to mind that have never made the airwaves. While far from a ‘say it all’, I would like to share a few things that have never been printed before.
I started my career as a junior member of a three-man broadcast team. The other broadcasters were much more knowledgeable and experienced than me; and, thus, I rarely had the opportunity to host a program. I mostly did taped interviews that they had to approve before broadcasting them. That is to say until the first day of the deer hunting season. This equates to a national holiday in central Missouri. Needless to say, I had to host all of the shows that day while the others made their way to the woods. The studio was in a rural area with a large pasture behind. Most of that day, several big dollars have spent time in this area. My colleagues came back empty-handed. I took pleasure in telling them that if they had come to work, they would have had nice supports for their walls.
One of my first milestones was the opportunity to travel with then Secretary of Agriculture John Block to South America. I made several mistakes on this trip. The first was to decide to take with me two large cassette recorders that I then had to lug around five countries. My shoulder still hurts from this. Then there was the incident at the reception. It was a state dinner for the secretary hosted by a top Brazilian official in his lavish estate. After consuming free adult drinks, the call of the wild has arrived. Not knowing how to ask for a toilet in Portuguese, I found a discreet place in the garden to sort out my problem. Ten minutes later, we were all called to the garden for the special tree planting ceremony. Yes, at this very place.
Subsequent trips abroad provided many other memorable incidents, including the time we ransacked the living room of an American ambassador. We were in Algeria which had very few telephone lines to the United States. We in the body of the press were desperate to bring our stories home. The Ambassador’s wife said the phone in the living room worked in the US and offered to use it. What she didn’t know was that in order for us to send our stories (long before the internet), we had to take the phone apart and connect our gear. When she later arrived, she found wires, recorders, typewriters, and cameras covering her furniture and tables as well as about 3 miles of cable. She was not thrilled.
Other memorable foreign experiences include visiting Rome at 4 a.m., buying pirated Microsoft software from a kid on a bicycle in a Beijing alley, watching a congressman’s press secretary get drunk and fall into the pool. a senior official from the Dominican Republic. Republic, and buy Cuban cigars for my boss in Hong Kong and bring them back to the United States in the battery compartment of my recorder.
Then there are the things I would have done differently. Agreeing to broadcast from the State Fair Swine Barn when the temperature exceeded 100 degrees was one. Interviewing Senator Lugar at the opening of an ethanol service station in Boone County at 5 a.m. with subzero temperatures was another. Finally, animating the sale of champions at the state fair, I was a nervous wreck and did a terrible job.
Things I have done right include moving to Indiana to start a farm radio network and many years later I started writing columns for the Farm World newspaper. It sounds like a bit of pimping, but it really isn’t. These two things led to experiences and relationships that made a 40-year career possible. Thank you!